Kukla's Korner Hockey
“Jim’s great strength is his consistency, and because of that you see that kind of calm, evenness throughout the whole organization,. He doesn’t get overly excited and at the same time when we’ve had our tough stretches this year he has been the calming influence, he’s been the guy that settles things down when they need settled down. He’s got a great feel for the team, which is a talent because he’s not in the locker room every day. He’s not one of these guys who are down there micro-managing everything. He allows people to do their jobs. So, when he does come down with a concern or suggestion you know it’s going to be well thought out and there is quite a bit of merit to it.”
-Carolina Coach Paul Maurice on GM Jim Rutherford. Much more on Rutherford from David Droschak of CarolinaHurricanes.com.
With the conference finals set to start Sunday, our experts ponder what lies ahead. ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun and ESPN The Magazine’s E.J. Hradek answer these 10 burning questions:
There have been a few controversial calls/noncalls in the first two rounds. How would you rate the officiating in the playoffs so far?
Burnside: I think there are always going to be complaints about officiating given the personalities of the teams and the officials involved, so I’m not troubled by what I see in terms of in-game calls. What still boggles the mind is how often the NHL makes itself look cartoonish by failing to even enforce its own rules, as was the case when league officials decided not to suspend Game 7 overtime hero Scott Walker for sucker-punching Aaron Ward earlier in the Carolina/Boston series. Unbelievable.
Hradek: I’m not big on beating up the refs. I think they have an incredibly tough job. On the ice, things are happening so fast and they don’t get a second look (usually). On the whole, they have done a very good job. Do they get every call right? No. But I think they officiate their sport better than what we see in the NFL, NBA and MLB.
LeBrun: I think it’s been decent. People get upset because there’s so much on the line and they believe their team is getting slighted, but obviously there’s no such thing….
Lyle Richardson, Fox Sports contributor, breaks down both conference finals series in audio format. First up, Detroit/Chicago then Pittsburgh/Carolina.
Scott’s wife, Julie, was diagnosed with cervical cancer during the team’s series against the Boston Bruins, which concluded with Walker’s dramatic, overtime game-winner in Game 7 on Thursday night in Boston. Julie Walker’s cancer is treatable, and she is expected to make a full recovery.
“My wife is an amazing person and we are looking forward to a positive outcome from this challenge,” said Scott Walker. “I will address the situation with the media this afternoon, but my family would appreciate its privacy going forward.”
Red Wings will win if... They can stay out of the penalty box. Killing penalties has been a rare Achilles’ heel all season—Detroit was 25th during the regular season at 78.3 percent and has only seen that number get worse as the calendar inches toward June. The quickest way for the Wings to fall behind in this series will be to give the potent Hawks’ offense a bushel of power-play chances on which to unleash their young talent.
Blackhawks will win if... They continue to play fast and work the transition to their advantage. While that may be a tough chore against Detroit, there is something special about this group, particularly on home ice where they are 5-1 in the postseason. The Hawks forced both the Flames and Canucks to play their style of game and it would certainly work to their advantage to force the Red Wings to do the same.
Penguins will win if... Pittsburgh will win if: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin create matchup problems for the Hurricanes. Let’s face it, these two make it a tough road to hoe for any team. If they get into a game of “Can you top this?” the Penguins will be tough to stop.
Hurricanes will win if... Cam Ward is the best player in this series. The Hurricanes love to play low-scoring, tight games in the playoffs. Paul Maurice calls it being comfortable in the grind, but basically, the Hurricanes want to keep games close so they can stay in their system and exert mental pressure on an opponent, waiting to exploit whatever cracks appear. To do that against the explosive Penguins, Ward will have to be at the very top of his game.
Eric and Jordan Staal are about to go where only the Espositos, the Plagers and the McCrearys have gone before.
When the puck drops Monday night on TSN for the opening game of the Carolina Hurricanes/Pittsburgh Penguins series, it will mark only the fifth time in NHL history that siblings have skated against each other in the Conference finals. The last time a brother act such as this occurred was in 1974 when Phil Esposito’s Bruins faced Tony’s Blackhawks. The rarity of the occurrence was not lost on the Staals.
“This is the best time of the year to play hockey,” said Eric in a conference call held by the NHL on Friday. “When brothers are playing against each other in the Conference finals it’s exciting not only four yourselves but for the rest of your family for sure.”
from Pierre LeBrun of ESPN,
We should know better by now than to underestimate the young bucks from Chicago (we picked Vancouver in seven), but this isn’t about shortchanging them. This is about two greatly talented teams being separated only by experience. The young Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s took down the veteran New York Islanders in their second crack at it. This is Chicago’s first crack at the Big Red Machine. Wings in seven.
from Scott Burnside of ESPN,
This one is going to be a ton of fun to watch; but, in the end, the Canes don’t have an adequate answer for Crosby and Malkin. As long as Fleury doesn’t completely lose his mind, the Pens should be able to dictate how things go in this one. Penguins in six.
much more on this series too…
The National Hockey League today announced the dates for the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Conference Finals, which begin in the Western Conference on Sunday, May 17 when the Detroit Red Wings host the Chicago Blackhawks. The Eastern Conference Final will match the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Carolina Hurricanes and will start on Monday, May 18.
Scott Walker with the OT goal and the Canes move on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What two teams will be playing Chicago and Pittsburgh in the Conference Finals?
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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